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Women in Psychology (Mary Whiton Calkins)

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By Cochino1977
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Mary Whiton Calkins (1863-1930) was a great American philosopher and psychologist of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Mary Whiton Calkins was born on March 30th, 1863 in the city of Hartford in Connecticut. Mary was the eldest of five other siblings. Her father was Presbyterian minister named Wolcott Calkins. Mary’s family was close knit; Mary was especially close to her mother. In 1880 at the age of seventeen, Mary relocated to Newton, Massachusetts. Her family constructed a new home in Newton and Mary would actually live out the rest of her life in that home. Her father, aware of the substandard education available to women of that time period took it upon himself to educate Mary himself. In 1882 through the education Mary received from her father she was able to gain acceptance into Smith College with an advanced standing as a sophomore. In the year 1883 tragedy struck Mary’s life with the death of her sister Maude. The death of Maude permanently changed Mary’s thinking and her character. She dropped out of Smith College the following year and took private lessons at home. In the autumn of 1884 Mary reentered Smith College as a senior and graduated with a degree in philosophy with a concentration in classics. In the year 1886 Mary and her family traveled to Europe for 16 months. In Europe Mary expanded her knowledge of classic philosophy. When Mary returned to Massachusetts he father arranged a meeting for her to meet the President of Wellesley College, Wellesley College is a liberal arts college for women that was located close to her home. Mary was offered an opportunity to tutor in Greek and she began teaching at Wellesley College in the fall of 1887. Mary continued to teach in the Greek Department at Wellesley College for three years. A professor that taught in the philosophy department at Wellesley noticed Mary’s talent for teaching. This professor discussed with Mary that he needed someone to fill a position to teach in the new field of psychology, which was considered a sub discipline of philosophy at the time. Mary did not have any experience in psychology and she made that know to the professor, to which he replied, “find the right person and the preparation can be discussed latter.”
The professor had only one requirement for Mary to fore fill before she took the position, and that was for her to study for one year in a psychology program. Mary was faced with two problems for meeting this position; the first was that there were too few psychology programs in 1890. And second, getting acceptance to one the few institutions that offered a psychology program was highly unlikely because she was a woman. Mary first considered studying psychology abroad. A professor at Smith College recommended to Mary that her best chance was to try obtaining “private instruction in psychology and philosophy at any German university outside of Zurich” (Furumoto, 1980). Mary dismissed attending university in Germany after she received a letter from a female student studying at the University of Gottingen. The letter stated, “I wish I might encourage you; but the past experience has proved to me the utter uselessness of trying to enlighten the authorities, at least in our generation.”
One of the few universities in the United States with a psychology department was Harvard. There were two professors at Harvard, William James and Josiah Royce, that sent Mary letters inviting her to “sit-in” on their lectures on an informal basis. Mary took the professors up on their offer to “sit-in” on their classes. The President at Harvard refused to honor this offer extended to Mary, stating that her presence at these lectures would more than likely invoke an angry reaction from Harvard’s governing body. To this reaction Mary’s father wrote a petition to Harvard requesting that his daughter be granted permission to attend the psychology lectures. In addition to Mary’s father’s petition the President of Wellesley College wrote a letter stating that Mary Calkins was a member of their faculty and that the psychology program offered at Harvard suited her needs. On October 1st 1890 the governing body at Harvard approved the petition to allow Mary Calkins to attend the psychology lectures of Professors James and Royce. There was a condition to Harvard’s acceptance as noted in Harvard’s university records “that by accepting this privilege Miss Calkins does not become a student of the University entitled to registration”(1880). Mary began attending her first lecture with Professor James in that autumn. When Mary arrived to the lecture she discovered she was the only student left in the class, this allowed her to receive a sort of private session of sorts from Professor James. In addition to the lectures she was allowed to sit in with James and Royce, Mary also began taking classes in experimental psychology under Dr. Edmund Sanford at Clark University. In the autumn of 1891, Mary Calkins went back to Wellesley College as an Instructor of Psychology in the Department of Philosophy. In that same year Mary established a psychological laboratory at Wellesley College. In the early spring of 1895, Mary presented her doctoral thesis, “An Experimental research on the Association of Ideas,” On May 28th 1985 Professors James, Royce, Palmer Munsterberg, Harris and Dr. Santayana unanimously voted that Mary satisfied all customary requirement for her PhD. In the records at Harvard this was noted but not considered.
Latter in the year 1895 Mary went back to Wellesley College where she was made an Associate Professor of Psychology and Philosophy, Mary was promoted to full professor in the year 1898. Mary went on to write hundreds of papers divided between the disciplines of psychology and philosophy. Mary also wrote four books, including, An introduction to Psychology (1901); The Persistent Problems of Philosophy (1907), that went through five editions; and The Good Man and the Good (1918).
In the year 1900, Mary Calkins’ major contribution to psychology was when she developed a system of self-psychology. Mary’s work in this new field dealt with topics such as time consciousness and space, emotion, association, color theory and dreams. Mary’s first definition of her newly founded self-psychology is as follows:
“All sciences deal with facts, and there are two great classes of facts-Selves and Facts-for-the-Selves. But the second of these great groups, the Facts-for-the-Selves, is again capable of an important division into internal and external facts. To the first class belong percepts, images, memories, thoughts, emotions and volitions, inner events as we may call them; to the second class belong the things and the events of the outside world, the physical facts, as we may name them... The physical sciences study these common and apparently independent or external facts; psychology as distinguished from them is the science of consciousness, the study of selves and the inner facts-for-selves”. (Strunk, 1972)
Mary insisted that her self-psychology could relate, if not directly but indirectly, with the other models of psychology at the time. Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis was gaining notoriety; Mary felt that her self-psychology could interpret all the facts discovered by Sigmund Freud. Mary once wrote,” Self-psychology is finally at the core of every one of the psychoanalytic systems. Not only does the conscious ego play a role, if only a minor role, on the psychoanalytic stage, but even the unconscious closely studied turns out to resemble nothing so much as a dissociated self.”
As psychological views advanced and evolved, Mary Calkins theory of self-psychology dissolved and became dated. Eventually most of Mary’s ideas and much of her work would be “swept under the rug.”
In the year 1905, Mary Calkins was elected to the position of president of the American Psychological Association; Mary was the first woman in history to ever hold that position. In 1908 a list of leading psychologists in the United States was published, Mary Calkins ranked twelfth on that list. In the year 1909 the University of Colombia gave Mary a Doctor of Letters degree, and in 1910 Smith College bestowed a Doctor of Law degree. Both the University of Colombia and Smith College wanted Mary Calkins on their faculty and they both offered her positions, Mary declined both offers. Mary declined the offers partly because she wanted to remain close to home to look after her parent’s welfare.
Mary Calkins retired from Wellesley College in 1929, after teaching there for 29 years. Mary retired with the title of Research Professor. Mary planned on spending her retirement writing and enjoying time with her mother, but sadly less than one year after retiring Mary Whiten Calkins died on February 26, 1930 from an inoperable cancer.

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